If restricted time allows you to visit only one attraction in Astoria, my hands-down recommendation is the Astoria Column.

Our trip to Astoria was in late winter, just days after savage storms rattled windows and peeled loose shingles.  “I was scared,” shared a local resident as he filled our vehicle with gas.  Hurricane-force winds had him worrying their house would come apart.  But only a light breeze grazed the air on the day our van climbed the steep road to the Astoria Column, full sun offering warmth enough for short sleeves, even shorts for some.

I expected to see dazzling views from the hilltop, and I was dazzled in all directions.  The full four miles of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the mighty Columbia River, Youngs River, Youngs Bay, ample treetops and greenery – all are within eyeshot from the elevated vantage around the Astoria Column.

What surprised me, though, was 1) the presence of a viewing deck at the column’s top, and, even moreso, 2) kids heading up to it carrying balsa planes, which they subsequently chucked over the rails.

I assumed they were bending the rules, taking advantage of a relatively quiet time of year.  On a return visit though (this time with a picnic lunch), we discovered these light aerial floaters were not a weekday phenomenon – they are actually sold in the gift shop!  That’s Oregon for you, promoting simple fun, rather than condemning it.  One of the many reasons I so enjoy this state.

No matter what draws you to the Astoria Column – outdoor art, the amazing views, the vernal desire to toss a small glider from a 125-foot tower – it’s a unique and gratifying experience.

Column landing

100 Steps Wheels:

Poised on the apex of Coxcomb Hill, the Astoria Column presides over the history-rich riverfront city below.  From the raised landing at the base of the colorful monument, you can get a closer look at the timeline illustration spiraling from foot to cap.

Inscribed pavers compose the landing floor, and benches bearing names and dedications to loved ones are arranged around the periphery.  Overall, it’s a perfect place to marvel at the finer details of the Column and savor the surrounding scenery.

Walk Details for Column landing
Terrain: From the north side of the column: Pavement, followed by 11 stairs with railing to reach the level cement of the landing. From the west side of the column: Pavement, followed by a sidewalk that gradually ascends to the level cement of the landing. (This is the route indicated by the step count.)
Seating: Several benches around the periphery of the landing.
Fee: There’s a low annual fee to access all attractions, payable at the gift shop or collected as you enter the parking lot.
Restrooms: Yes, on the south side of the lot not far from the parking lot exit.
Directions: The column landing is at the base of the column in the central island of the Astoria Column parking lot.

Column viewing deck

175 Steps Wheels:

For the brave and hardy, you can climb the 164-step spiral staircase to reach the deck at the top of the Astoria Column.  For your effort, you are rewarded with 360-degree views of the area.  From this elevated platform you can soar your own balsa aircraft, snap photos in every direction, or simply gaze and admire the beauty.

If you forego ascending the spiral staircase, you can still step inside and look upward to get a perspective on the column’s height.

Walk Details for Column viewing deck
Terrain: Level sidewalk, 164 stairs to ascend the column, then level concrete when you reach the deck.
Seating: None
Fee: There’s a low annual fee to access all attractions, payable at the gift shop or collected as you enter the parking lot.
Restrooms: Yes, on the south side of the lot not far from the parking lot exit.
Directions: From the column landing, head into the column and climb the stairs.

Indian burial canoe

50 Steps Wheels:

The prodigious painted pillar is not the only work of outdoor art on the grounds.  Head to the west end of the parking lot and descend a curvy trail to reach the Indian Burial Canoe, a memorial in honor of Chief Comcomly.

Tall legs raise the replica watercraft off the ground, superimposing it over the bend in Youngs River in the background and giving the illusion it forever floats on the waters below.

The Youngs Bay and Astoria-Megler bridges connect the thumb of land hosting Astoria to its adjacent cities.  You can view both up close through one of the coin-operated viewfinders on the sidewalk near the path to the canoe.

Walk Details for Indian burial canoe
Terrain: Fairly steep stone sidewalk path one-person wide levels out around the burial canoe. A curb ramp to reach the sidewalk is located by the handicapped parking space.
Seating: None
Fee: There’s a low annual fee to access all attractions, payable at the gift shop or collected as you enter the parking lot.
Restrooms: Yes, on the south side of the lot not far from the parking lot exit.
Directions: The Indian Burial Canoe is on the west side of the Astoria Column parking lot. The path starts just to the left of the coin-operated viewfinders located on the sidewalk.

Picnic area

50 Steps Wheels:

The north side of the Astoria Column hill taunts children to barrel roll or run full steam down two tiers of grassy steepness.  We witnessed both of these exhibitions of abundant energy during our stop.  But while parents paused to photo the antics, our attention was only briefly diverted.  Although joyfully, youthfully contagious, it could not compete with the stupendous view.

Even if you have little interest in the Astoria Column itself (although how could one not appreciate its lofty décor?), this is a fabulous place to picnic.  Select a table or spread a blanket on the lawn.  Below you, the Columbia River extends to the sea, huge cargo ships traverse its waters, the Astoria-Megler Bridge stretches from Oregon to Washington, and Astoria itself spills out from foothills to water’s edge.  Stunning!

Walk Details for Picnic area
Terrain: Use seven stairs with no handrails or a short but steep descent on grass. In both cases a lumpy lawn remains before reaching a picnic table.
Seating: Three picnic tables
Fee: There’s a low annual fee to access all attractions, payable at the gift shop or collected as you enter the parking lot.
Restrooms: Yes, on the south side of the lot not far from the parking lot exit.
Directions: The picnic area is on the north side of the Astoria Column parking lot. It is next to the first row of parking spaces you pass as you enter the lot.